Tableau Tip: A Shortcut for Selecting Layout Containers

By Guest Author 2016/10/06

Note: The following is a guest post by Tableau Zen Master Joshua Milligan.

Years ago, one of my colleagues asked if you could eventually learn everything there was to ever know about Tableau. Naively, I said, “Yes.” But I was wrong! I learn Tableau every day.

Consider all the areas Tableau touches:

  • Analysis
  • Data structure
  • Visualization
  • Calculations
  • Set theory
  • Design
  • Statistics
  • Databases
  • Server architecture
  • Communication
  • Thinking in aggregate
  • SQL (and maybe even MDX)
  • Data integration
  • Security
  • Storytelling
  • Business intelligence
  • and more!

Even if you were an expert in one or two of those areas, you couldn’t be an expert in all of them. And even if you were an expert in one, you wouldn’t know everything. (In fact, as an expert, would know what you didn’t know!)

Let me share two quick points and an example.

First, Don’t Despair!

You don’t have to know everything! In fact, that’s why I love Tableau. It makes it so I can produce a lot of value without having to understand everything.

Do I have to understand SQL to get Tableau to talk to an underlying data source? No. Does it help? Sure. But I could use Tableau even if I never learned how to write a SQL script. Do I have to have a degree in statistics to use trends and forecasts? No. Does it help? Sure. And it can keep me from making some bad assumptions, so I won’t shy away from learning and I won’t shy away from admitting what I don’t know.

But Tableau opens the door to me as an everyday person to effectively leverage the tools that I may never fully understand (and if you want to learn Tableau, here’s a shameless plug for my book, Learning Tableau. The second edition is coming soon!).

Second, It’s Actually Exciting!

The fact that I don’t know everything is great! It means that I can continue to grow and expand. And that’s exciting! That’s one thing I love about consulting (shameless plug for my employer, Teknion Data Solutions)—there’s never a dull moment! Every new client has a new domain of knowledge to learn. There are also challenges, new questions, and new ways to solve those challenges.

And not only do I grow in knowledge of various industries, data sets, visualization techniques, and ways of communicating, I also continue to learn Tableau itself, every day! Here’s an example.

The Way I Used to Select Layout Containers

Whenever I wanted to select an object’s parent layout container, I used to use the drop-down menu from the little down arrow that appears on each dashboard object when you click it. Then I’d select "select layout container."

It works, but it’s a bit tedious. And it's very easy to accidentally click the wrong place and have to start over.

The Little Tableau Trick I Learned

I was recently technically reviewing a forthcoming Tableau video series by Tim Messar (shameless plug for the video series—it is outstanding! You can also follow Tim on Twitter).

In the section on dashboards, Tim casually mentioned the way he selects the parent layout containers of objects on the dashboard. Just double-click the border or grip of the object:

Really?! I never saw that in any documentation! I could have saved hours of time as I designed dashboards, and I will save hours of time in the months and years to come! And so will you! Or maybe you already knew this Tableau trick. Maybe you know other Tableau tips and tricks. Feel free to share them in the comments below and help all of us as we continue to learn Tableau!

For more tips, tricks, and vizzes by Joshua, check out his Tableau Public profile page, his blog, and his book, Learning Tableau. You can also connect with him on Twitter @VizPainter.


Submitted by Craigsdewar (not verified) on

I am SO going to use this. Awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Might just check out that book now...

Submitted by Dan G. on

THAT. IS. AWESOME! Now, if we can just get some other improvements in the dashboard designer (e.g. drag and drop in the layout window) then this would be COMPLETE! :)

Submitted by Ad S. on

Brilliant, same here. Very usefull and i also didn't come across this tip through the regular documentation. Thanks

Submitted by John S. on

Ha ha I use that all the time and yes I think it is a great feature. But it makes me wonder if there are other container tricks I'm missing. I'm constantly fighting getting sheets INSIDE containers the way I want. For example when I have a vertical layout container nested INSIDE a Horizontal layout container and want to get another sheet inside the vertical layout container, many times it seems to highlight or find just the outer layout container (horizontal) no matter how delicately I move the mouse around trying to pick up the vertical container. I've even tried holding down different cntrl keys to see if they would do something but to no avail. Am I the only one fighting this? It would be super great if we could just drag and drop the objects within the container folder hierarchy on the left pane.

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